On behalf of eight conservation groups, lawyers from Earthjustice and Natural Resources Defense Council on Wednesday filed court papers against the State of Alaska's lawsuit seeking to overturn the U.S. Forest Service's new Roadless Rule. The rule protects unlogged, roadless wildlands in the National Forests, including the Tongass and Chugach. The groups filed a motion in U.S. District Court in Anchorage to "intervene" in the lawsuit to defend the rule.
The Forest Service issued the Roadless Rule last month after a three-year public process that involved more than 600 public meetings - including 17 in Alaska - and that drew approximately 1.6 million public comments, of which a large majority favored establishing new protections for roadless lands.
"Alaska residents spoke out overwhelmingly in support of this rule during the public hearings," said Earthjustice lawyer Tom Waldo, who is representing the groups. "The Governor won't stick up for them, so we will."
Alaskans overwhelmingly supported roadless area protection through public testimony at hearings, with letters, cards, emails, and telephone calls. At the public hearings in Alaska 62% of those testifying called for roadless area protection. In Southeast Alaska, the heart of the Tongass, over 70% of those testifying in the four largest communities asked to have the Tongass included in the rule.
"It's shameful that Governor Knowles is ignoring the wishes of so many Alaskans by challenging the forest protection rule in court," said Mark Rorick of Juneau Group of the Sierra Club. "While we believe the legal challenges are politically motivated and flimsy at best we can not count on the Bush Administration to vigorously defend the policy."
"The majority of Chugach residents who participated in numerous Forest Service public hearings strongly supported the roadless rule for the preservation of fish and wildlife resources and backcountry recreation areas in their pristine watersheds and river corridors," said Michelle Wilson of the Alaska Center for the Environment.
Over one million acres of oldgrowth rainforest has already been clearcut on the Tongass National Forest alone. The Tongass contains more than 4,600 miles of logging roads already – enough to drive from Miami to New York to Seattle. Roadless areas are portions of the national forests that remain undamaged by logging and other developments. Alaska's Tongass and Chugach National Forests provide habitat for sensitive wildlife species, protect watersheds for drinking water, and offer abundant opportunities for hunting, fishing, hiking, and recreation.
Rather than looking backwards, the Governor should be working to protect Alaska's future by ensuring the conservation and sustainable uses of our fish, wildlife, and recreational resources in perpetuity," said, Brian McNitt, Alaska Rainforest Campaign.
Alaska's rainforest includes the best remaining grizzly bear habitat in North America, contains spawning habitat for all five species of wild Pacific salmon, and abundant populations of Sitka black-tailed deer.
The intervention filing comes on the heels of the Bush Administration's announcement in early February that the effective date for the popular forest rule would be delayed by 60 days until May 12, 2001, while the Administration reviews the rule.
"By opposing legal assaults on the last unroaded forests in Alaska, we hope to protect these national treasures for all to enjoy, and for the Alaskans that depend on healthy forests," said Nicole Whittington-Evans of The Wilderness Society.